The Obama Files
Dismissing climate change as a polarizing political issue is a stunt, crafted by people who are more self-interested than truly conservative. We ought not to get caught in that trap.
I raise the issue in response to Chris Mooney’s thoughtful comments about earlier criticism that the DeSmogBlog had levied against Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama. Chris laid out an astute analysis of the pressures facing candidates who are slogging through the necessary mire of the presidential primaries. He suggested that it would be less than prudent for such a candidate to paint himself into a politically untenable position on climate change. Fair enough.
For those of us who might wish that a leader like Obama would be more courageous, Chris added: “It’s a terrible strategy to attack the Democratic candidates from the left right now over global warming – in other words, to argue that they’re not going far enough.”
It’s an intelligent – and inherently conservative – opinion, but badly framed.
Science is not “left wing.” It’s true that any number of breathless denier blogs have characterized the Kyoto agreement as a socialist plot to disrupt the cause of unfettered self-interest. But the people who make those arguments aren’t “conservative.” Conservatives are cautious. Conservatives make intelligent judgments about risk.
No. The people who make those arguments are self-styled libertarians – anarchic crusaders against all things governmental – who, in so many coincidental instances, support their operations on grants and donations from fossil fuel giants and their wealthy heirs and assigns.
Unfortunately, this campaign to polarize the issue has been shockingly successful. And here I want to make it clear that I mean no specific criticism of Chris Mooney: I have fallen into this trap a hundred times myself, making casual references to “right-wing think tanks” that have joined the movement to deny, dissemble or delay action on climate change.
But each time we make that mistake – each time we accept the right/left characterization – we polarize the issue further. We tell people who think of themselves as cautious conservatives that they’re not part of our team. Rather than engaging them – rather than getting them to actually think about the issue of global warming – we let them off the hook. We accept the stupid assertion that if you don’t like Al Gore, you don’t have to “believe” in global warming.
Two people have shown real leadership in moving America past this unhelpful paradigm: presidential hopeful John McCain and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. They recognized a pressing threat to their country, their economy and the livability of their environment and they responded as any thoughtful, cautious conservative would – with a plan to limit risk.
We should follow their lead. We should remove the polarizing language from this debate and set this conversation out for what it is: a discussion about science, about risk, about prudent government policy. Because, despite what the anarchists say, government is not evil in and of itself. Prudent government is good (if all too rare).
This issue is too big to be conquered by individuals acting alone. We will need all the world’s governments – left, right, democratic, totalitarian, the fairly honest and wretchedly disreputable – to come together and act in the best interests of all humankind. And preferably to act faster than even Barack Obama is currently willing to move.